Missed going to Switzerland in the summer? Think about going there in the winter instead. Sangeetha Sampath introduces you to the winter side of Switzerland, one that’ll get your heart rate up and your adrenaline, racing. After which you can retire to the fireplace and read. Promise!
They say Switzerland resembles a picture-perfect postcard in the summer (read 9 Reasons To Heart Switzerland In The Summer) and an enchanting snow globe in winter. Mountains wearing pristine white, quaint houses with a frosting of snow on the roof, pine and fir trees lightly dusted with star-shaped snowflakes… True, very true. But, with a twist. Zip up your jacket, pull down your beanie and…ski away. Or hike, climb, snowboard, take a cable car ride to the top of a mountain, or a train ride through Alpine passes.
If you thought winters in Switzerland were dreary and bleak, think again! Swiss winters are all about outdoor activities and adventure—a holiday that promises many first-time experiences, including minus-degree temperatures. The winter season runs from November through February, with December and January being the coldest months. And contrary to popular belief, it is not the low season (that would be March-June), so if you don’t book well in advance, expect hotels and travel to cost you as much as a summer holiday.
# 1 Gstaad
This winter city, set high in the Swiss mountains treats you to incredible snow-covered vistas, celebrity sightings and heavenly fondue for enduring the teeth-chattering temperatures. Not a bad trade-off, if you ask us. Once you are done identifying European royalty (oh yes, they do visit here quite often), you can try your hand, or leg, at some skiing and hiking. Children under 9 years of age stay for free in most hotels (do check with them) and enjoy free rides on cable cars and mountain trains. So if you are on your honeymoon, think ahead and make plans to come back with your (future) kids.
# 2 The Haute Route
Spanning 180 kms, from Chamonix Valley to Zermatt, The Haute Route attracts that tribe of holiday-makers who like to challenge themselves. In the summer, they walk the entire length, and in winter, they ski from hut-to-hut (places to rest that dot the route). If you plan to do this, make sure you are fit, have the right equipment and have enough holidays off from work. It takes anywhere between 9 to 15 days to cover the route. The rewards—the freshest air you are ever likely to breathe and the majestic scenery of the Alps!
# 3 Matterhorn, Zermatt
The Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in the Alps, has seduced many a mountaineer. It’s considered to be a technical climb and requires experience, knowledge and skill. But if the only mountaineering you’ve ever done is conquering an anthill, then we suggest you end your ascent at the sleepy village of Zermatt, in the shadow of the Matterhorn. This postcard-worthy Alpine village offers outdoorsy activities for the entire family.
# 4 Engadin St. Moritz
When packing for Engadin, forget the umbrella and pack some sunscreen instead. This long valley in the Swiss Alps averages 322 days of sunshine a year, a Swiss record. Maybe that’s why the people of St. Moritz, Engadin’s most famous resort-town, want you to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Apart from adrenaline-pumping activities like cross-country skiing and windsurfing on St. Moritz Lake, you can also explore the quaint stone houses native to the region and try learning Romansch, a language indigenous to Switzerland and widely spoken in this region.
# 5 Schilthorn
Quiet, little Switzerland hides a wild side. Schilthorn, a 2900 meter-high Alpine mountain was the setting for James Bond’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In particular, the revolving restaurant Piz Gloria, built at the very top of Schilthorn where you can enjoy a James Bond-themed buffet while soaking in the 360-degree views. Tuck in. There won’t be any bad guys here to interrupt your meal.
# 6 Bernina Express & Glacier Express
Some countries are best seen from the air. But not Switzerland. Its alpine landscape is best seen at eye level, preferably through the panoramic window of a train, chugging along at non-supersonic speeds. The Bernina Express takes 2½ hours to travel from St. Moritz in Switzerland to Tirano in Italy. Along the way, it passes glaciers, mountains, valleys, 196 bridges and 55 tunnels. If you want to go even slower, consider the Glacier Express, known as the world’s slowest. It snails its way through a 200 km journey in 7 hours. That should give you plenty of time to count the number of alpine cows grazing on the meadows near the tracks.
# 7 Winter festivals
The Swiss, despite their obsession with punctuality and their industrious nature, are a kooky lot. A personality trait very much in evidence at the Samichlaus-Schwimmen in Zurich in December. Want to join in? All you need are your swimming trunks and a Santa hat. Jump in to the freezing waters of Lake Zurich and swim, along with a hundred others. But if that seems like a daunting task, then gather some friends, build your own sleigh (the more outlandish the design, the better) and take part in the Giant sledge Race at Alt St. Johann, a perfect little Swiss village that reminds you of those perfect, little snow globes.
Sangeetha Sampath has three recurring dreams: One: To visit every state in India. Two: To fill her passport with stamps. And three: That instead of 30 days annual leave, her generous company has given her 1 year (paid!) leave.
But then she wakes up and realises she has to go work as the Creative Director of an advertising agency in Bangalore. Long days indeed.
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